The suffrage movement is rarely documented on film. I can only think of a handful of films where the movement makes a dominant appearance and The Shocking Miss Pilgrim is one of them. A theme close to my heart, with the proper viewpoint, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim has always been a favorite of mine.
Miss Pilgrim (Betty Grable) appears to Bostonians to lack all propriety. You see, Miss Pilgrim is from New York. She just graduated top of her class from Packard Business College which started a program to get typewriters–male and female–trained so that a typewriter company could actually makes some sales. Miss Pilgrim finds herself on a train to Boston after she draws Prichard Shipping Company in Boston. When she arrives, she is odds with Mr. Prichard (Dick Haymes) and just about fifty percent of Boston as well. Miss Pilgrim finds lodging with a group of outcasts who aid her with confidence in changing the minds of prim and proper Bostonians, including Mr. Prichard.
Betty Grable shows very little skin as Mrs. Pilgrim which is why critics say it tanked in box office. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a lovely little film and Betty gets to be a bit more subdued in it and that, frankly, makes me happy. She does some lovely numbers like “Changing My Tune,” “For You, For Me, Forevermore,” “Waltz Me No Waltzes Sitting Down,” and “Aren’t You Kind of Glad We Did?” No big dance numbers, unless you count a couple twirls around her bedroom during “Changing My Tune” and it’s reprise. Just a lovely battle for knife against scissors–a strong argument and solution for women’s rights.
Now, I must admit a little bias. All my feminist views are dashed when it comes to Dick Haymes. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Like Nelson Eddy and Bing Crosby, he could sing the phonebook and it would make me deliriously happy. This is by far my favorite film of his. Mr. Prichard’s life is controlled by women–his aunt who owns an interest in his company, his deep affection that he clearly has for his mother in a relationship that appears to be on an even keel, now he has the first woman typewriter in Boston on his hands–he clearly has affection and respect for women and yet he refuses to bend on women’s rights. While defending male dominance, he shares the screen beautifully with Betty Grable singing duets of every song mentioned above except “Changing My Tune.” Oh, he has beautiful solo parts of the songs, too, but he does share his screen time nicely.
I just took a glance at the filmography of Elisabeth Risdon who played Mr. Prichard’s mother. She has 149 credits on IMDb and yet her biography is only a line long stating that she was a silent star in the UK and made many films during the 30s and 40s in the US. While watching the film again, I thought to myself that I hadn’t recognized her from other films. I’m sad that I never recognized her before. She’s been in many films I have seen, but many more that I haven’t, however, looking back at a couple films–specifically Random Harvest and Theodora Goes Wild, I wouldn’t have recognized her for the life of me. She makes very short screen appearances in these two films, but in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim she has an ever so slightly longer, more memorable role. She’s so elegant, too–her character is sensitive and just plain lovely.
Anne Revere is wonderful as Aunt Alice, too. Aunt Alice, the woman who has a tendency to get things done and does so with a whole lot of repetition. It’s charming. This may have been the first film I noticed Anne in come to think of it, but my favorite film of hers by far is her role as Mrs. Brown in National Velvet for which she won an Oscar–such strong women she played.
The supporting eccentrics are genuinely a pleasure to watch. We have Allyn Joslyn as a poet (also in Heaven Can Wait). Arthur Shields plays Michael, a painter who only wants to paint in bright colors. Lillian Bronson is Viola Simmons, a woman who wants to completely re-write the dictionary using common words in new ways–“Balloon is used for full, because the double ‘O’ gives it a fuller sound.” It’s grand. Charles Kemper plays a fellow who wants to change the way people read music–music by color. Last but not least, we have the den mother of the establishment, Catharine Dennison, play by Elizabeth Patterson, who was in many, many films, but is probably best known for being on “I Love Lucy.”
This film has many strong points–the plot, the songs are lovely (they were also recorded on Decca’s label by Dick Haymes and Judy Garland), oh–everything is very happy-making. The only thing that’s troubling is that it couldn’t pull in higher numbers at the box office.